MINNEAPOLIS — Despite all the speculation that surrounded Jose Berrios this month, with the Minnesota Twins nowhere near contention and ready to reload for the future, the right-hander wasn’t ready to accept he could be traded.
The news that he was heading to Toronto on Friday brought him and his wife to tears.
Then came the really hard part, having to break the news to their three children that he was joining the Blue Jays in a deadline-day deal that sent two highly rated minor leaguers to the Twins.
“I know that it will be hard because this year, they are bigger. They are growing up. They know more about life and also some people,” Berrios said, predicting the greatest difficulty for 7-year-old daughter Valentina.
Soon-to-be-5-year-old Sebastian and 3-year-old Diego had grown fond of Minneapolis and their friends there, too.
Berrios, drafted 32nd overall by the Twins in 2012, debuted with Minnesota in 2015. Though Puerto Rico was their home, he and his wife, Jannieliz, became strongly rooted in the community. He worked hard to be able to speak English effectively. Berrios felt strongly enough about the Twins that he asked the team’s senior director of communications, Dustin Morse, to arrange a farewell Zoom session with reporters.
“When you’ve got your first team or your first time in everything, that’s where I made my MLB debut, so it’s going to be in my heart all my life,” Berrios said from St. Louis, where he had been scheduled to start a three-game series against the Cardinals.
Instead, the playoff-chasing Blue Jays won the aggressive pursuit for the two-time All-Star, who was one of the most attractive players available on the market. They parted with infielder/outfielder Austin Martin and right-hander Simeon Woods Richardson for the 27-year-old Berrios.
Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins called it “a fair assessment” that Berrios was one of Toronto’s top deadline targets.
“We felt as though the value was worth it,” Atkins said. “The opportunity to acquire Berrios was exciting for us and a very difficult decision, not something that we just walked into. Austin Martin will be a great player and Simeon Woods Richardson is going to be a great pitcher, and we’re going to be pulling for them. This was just an opportunity that we wanted to take.
“We knew the price was going to be high,” Atkins said. “Working through our system with not only the Twins but with other teams, there were clear targets that the entire industry was focused on. Fortunately, we had enough of them to meet the mark.”
Left-handed reliever Brad Hand, traded from Washington to Toronto in a deal Thursday, was excited to see Berrios join him north of the border.
“I spent two and a half years in Cleveland so I saw him a lot in Minnesota,” Hand said. “He’s a great pitcher, a guy that can really carry a pitching staff at times. That was a big add to get here.”
The Blue Jays began the day at 51-48, in the fifth spot chasing two AL wild-card slots with a 4 1/2-game deficit to make up.
“We believe we haven’t played our best baseball yet,” Atkins said.” Hopefully those days are here upon us.”
Also on Friday, Toronto acquired right-hander Joakim Soria from Arizona for two players to be named.
Berrios was 7-5 with a 3.48 ERA in 20 starts for the Twins this season, their unquestioned ace who has been as durable as any pitcher in the game and remains under team control through the 2022 season.
“We’re thinking about next year, too,” Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said. “A guy like Berrios is one of the best starters in baseball. And now we’ve got control over him next year also.”
The sadness of leaving Minnesota aside, the opportunity to return to a postseason race will help stem the blow a bit for Berrios.
“They are competing and trying to get that push to the playoffs. I’m so happy to be part of that, and I’m going to put myself in the best position to help that team to make that this year,” he said.
Berrios has struck out 126 in 121 2/3 innings this season and held opponents to a .213 batting average. He was 55-43 with a 4.08 ERA in his career with Minnesota.
Dealing Berrios will set a struggling rotation back even further in the short term, but the Twins had leverage, with so many teams seeking high-end starting pitching. Minnesota decided to hasten the reset process for 2022 and beyond after this disappointing season on the heels of two straight AL Central titles.
“We were setting a high bar for a lot of these conversations,” president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said after the deadline passed.
The 22-year-old Martin hit .281 with a .424 on-base percentage and scored 43 runs in 55 games for Double-A New Hampshire. This is his first pro season after being drafted fifth overall in 2020 out of Vanderbilt, where he helped win the College World Series in 2019. Martin was ranked this year by MLB.com as the second-best prospect in Toronto’s system and the 16th-best prospect in the minor leagues. He played for the American League in the All-Star Futures Games this month at Coors Field. That AL side was managed by Twins special assistant LaTroy Hawkins.
The 20-year-old Woods Richardson was 2-4 with a 5.76 ERA in 11 starts for Double-A New Hampshire. Listed 68th overall in MLB.com’s prospect rankings, Woods Richardson is now playing for the United States in the Olympics in Tokyo with fellow pitcher Joe Ryan, who was acquired by the Twins last week in a trade that sent slugger Nelson Cruz to Tampa Bay. Woods Richardson was a second-round draft pick in 2018 by the New York Mets, who dealt him to Toronto in the trade for pitcher Marcus Stroman in 2019.
Berrios was one of the few homegrown pitchers the Twins had successfully drafted and developed over the last two decades, but they’d been unable to secure him to a long-term contract and weren’t prepared to try to outbid for him on the open market if he were to reach free agency next year. So they took advantage of his hot market this summer and took another step toward restocking.
With Ryan, Woods Richardson and Drew Strotman, who was also recently acquired from the Rays for Cruz, the Twins have three more viable options for their future rotation.
One player the Twins hung onto was oft-injured center fielder Byron Buxton, whom they’ve also not yet been able to sign to an extension. Falvey said the Twins received plenty of interest in the multi-skilled Buxton, but not enough to warrant moving him.
“We’re just going to continue to focus right now on him getting as healthy as possible, get him back on the field, and getting him playing for us,” Falvey said.